Home Microsoft Azure Aims to Re-define the OS

Microsoft Azure Aims to Re-define the OS

I’m at the Microsoft PDC in Los Angeles, where I was among a small group of bloggers and analysts who had a roundtable today with Microsoft executives Ray Ozzie (Chief Software Architect), Bob Muglia (Senior Vice President of the Server and Tools Business) and Amitabh Srivastava (Corporate Vice President, Cloud Infrastructure Services). The topic of conversation was Microsoft Azure, the cloud computing operating system announced earlier today. I also had a 1:1 briefing with Daz Wilkin, a program manager in Microsoft’s platform strategy group. All of this to get to the bottom of what Microsoft Azure is and what it means for the Internet, consumers, and businesses.

Windows Azure and Windows 7

Ever since the announcement this morning, I’ve been pondering what Microsoft Azure means to Microsoft’s core business – a little desktop operating system called Windows. So I asked Ray Ozzie: given that Microsoft is positioning Azure as an OS for cloud computing, what then is the relationship between Azure and the core Windows (in particular the new version, Windows 7)?

Ozzie’s role at Microsoft is to be their lead architect of software systems, and so understandably he launched into a very conceptual answer to my question. He explained that both operating systems will develop alongside each other and that there will be a “bi-directional innovation transfer” between the two. He was pretty clear though that Azure is not designed to replace the desktop OS any time soon, although he said later in the interview that eventually people “will commonly think of this cloud thing as being just another computer”. So in a sense what Microsoft is trying to do with Azure is re-define what an OS is, for the cloud computing age.

Azure is clearly Microsoft’s response to a computing world going ever more deeper into the cloud (a.k.a. the Internet). Ozzie said that Windows Azure will be their backend of the cloud and the frontend will be a “multi-device world”.

As explained in a white paper (docx file) on the Azure website, “Windows Azure runs on a large number of machines, all located in Microsoft data centers and accessible via the Internet.”

Cannibalizing Desktop Windows?

It’s difficult to fathom at this point if or how Azure will cannibalize Microsoft’s core OS business.

I asked Ray Ozzie what will be the licensing implications – for example will enterprises be able to buy just an Azure licence and not [desktop] Windows? Bob Muglia, Senior Vice President of the Server and Tools Business, swooped in to answer that. He replied that enterprises will be able to mix and match – cloud and “on premise” (an apparently new term we’ve heard a lot today at PDC).

Muglia said that there will be a range of different licensing, just as currently there are lots of different licensing options for Windows Vista – versions for enterprises, students, and so on. There may even, hinted Muglia, be advertising-based licensing models for Azure.

Azure and Amazon

Earlier in the day I’d asked Daz Wilkin, of Microsoft’s platform group, how Microsoft Azure compares to Amazon’s cloud offerings. Wilkin stated that Amazon’s system can be thought of as an “empty vessal”, because developers basically pour all their software and effort into Amazon’s system. Microsoft Azure on the other hand, according to Wilkin, is a “compute fabric” – the developer can focus on building the business logic and then scaling the platform to the demand. Azure takes away the “lower level complexities”, according to Wilkin.

In the keynote today, Ray Ozzie was careful to heap praise on Amazon, saying that we all owe Amazon a debt of thanks for driving cloud computing forward. In the roundtable, Ozzie said that he hopes others do compete with Microsoft: “it’ll be bad if we’re the only ones doing this”.

In our next post on Azure, we’ll delve into the software implications of Microsoft Azure. For now, tell us how you think Azure relates to the desktop Windows OS? If you work in a corporation, let us know how you envision using these two different – yet intimately connected – operating systems.

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